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Co-optation, Radicals, Idealists, Realists, and Blogging

Came across GOEBBELS' PRINCIPLES OF PROPAGANDA via Tutor and it's a fascinating read.

Then Tutor had this to say:

I am saying that the vocabulary of marketing, branding, and political speech (one way, two way or emergent) is systematically debased, and so is our critical intelligence. We the propagandized herd(s), whoever's brand we carry on our behinds, whether we bandy the memes up, down or sideways, are the product of our society - and a sorry commentary on it. Wealth Bondage knows no party, and favors no product. Its motto is "whatever works." It is the grammer of contemporary thought, that without which the contemporary mind is blank. And that is the measure of our slavery.

Tutor is right — "whatever works" is indeed it's motto. And one of their most potent tools in implementing this in a democracy — especially as it pertains to preventing social justice — is called "co-optation". Here, from John Stauber via Ratical, is an example of how it works:

...[C]orporate charity can buy the tacit cooperation of organizations that might otherwise be expected to criticize corporate policies. Some PR firms specialize in helping corporations to defeat activists, and co-optation is one of their tools.

Some years ago, in a speech to clients in the cattle industry, Ron Duchin, senior vice-president of the PR firm Mongoven, Biscoe, and Duchin (which represents probably a quarter of the largest corporations in the world), outlined his firm's basic divide-and-conquer strategy for defeating any social-change movement. Activists, he explained, fall into three basic categories: radicals, idealists, and realists. The first step in his strategy is to isolate and marginalize the radicals. They're the ones who see the inherent structural problems that need remedying if indeed a particular change is to occur. To isolate them, PR firms will try to create a perception in the public mind that people advocating fundamental solutions are terrorists, extremists, fearmongers, outsiders, communists, or whatever. After marginalizing the radicals, the PR firm then identifies and "educates" the idealists -- concerned and sympathetic members of the public -- by convincing them that the changes advocated by the radicals would hurt people. The goal is to sour the idealists on the idea of working with the radicals, and instead get them working with the realists.

Realists, according to Duchin, are people who want reform but don't really want to upset the status quo; big public-interest organizations that rely on foundation grants and corporate contributions are a prime example. With the correct handling, Duchin says, realists can be counted on to cut a deal with industry that can be touted as a "win-win" solution, but that is actually an industry victory.

And why does this strategy work so effectively? He continues:

In part, because we don't have a watchdog press that aggressively investigates and exposes PR lies and deceptions. Its success is also a reflection of the sorry state of democracy in our society. We really have a single corporate party with two wings, both funded by wealthy special interests. On the critical issues -- taxation, health care, foreign policy -- there's rarely much disagreement. If there is, more special-interest money floods in to make sure the corporate agenda wins out. On a deeper level, we all want to believe these lies. Wouldn't it be great to wake up and find ourselves living in a functioning democracy? To be truly represented by our so-called Representatives? Not to have to worry about the destruction of the biosphere or the safety of the water we drink and the food we eat? I think we all buy in because we want to believe things aren't as bad as they really are.

The reality is, though, that the U.S. political and social environment is corrupt and deeply dysfunctional. Structural reforms must be made in our political and economic system in order to assert the rights of citizens over corporations. But since big corporations dominate the media, we're not going to hear about this on network news or in the New York Times. We're not going to hear about it from politicians who are bought and paid for by wealthy interests. The beginning of the solution is for people to recognize that it's not enough to send checks in response to direct-mail solicitations from politicians and public-interest groups. We need to become real citizens and get personally involved in reclaiming our country.

Tutor points to a more epistemological solution:

To think straight, regardless of your own self-interest - impossible? No, the measure of the mind.

But that assumes a structural re-adjustment that values and inculcates critical thinking in its citizens. And it's not going to happen by itself.

Lawrence Goodwin, once again via Ratical, shows us one possible way to get there:

Imposing cultural roadblocks stand in the way of a democratic movement at every stage of this sequential process, causing losses in the potential constituencies that are to be incorporated into the movement. Many people may not be successfully “recruited,” many who are recruited may not become adequately “educated,” and many who are educated may fail the final test of moving into autonomous political action. The forces of orthodoxy, occupying the most culturally sanctioned command posts in the society, can be counted upon, out of self-interest, to oppose each stage of the sequential process -- particularly the latter stages, when the threat posed by the movement has become clear to all. In the aggregate, the struggle to create a mass democratic movement involves intense cultural conflict with many built-in advantages accruing to the partisans of the established order.
Democratic movements are initiated by people who have individually managed to attain a high level of personal political self-respect. They are not resigned; they are not intimidated. To put it another way, they are not culturally organized to conform to established hierarchical forms. Their sense of autonomy permits them to dare to try to change things by seeking to influence others. The subsequent stages of recruitment and of internal economic and political education...turn on the ability of the democratic organizers to develop widespread methods of internal communication within the mass movement. Such democratic facilities provide the only way the movement can defend itself to its own adherents in the face of the adverse interpretations certain to emanate from the received culture. If the movement is able to achieve this level of internal communication and democracy, and the ranks accordingly grow in numbers and in political consciousness, a new plateau of social possibility comes within reach of all participants. In intellectual terms, the generating force of this new mass mode of behavior may be rather simply described as “a new way of looking at things.” It constitutes a new and heretofore unsanctioned mass folkway of autonomy. In psychological terms, its appearance reflects the development within the movement of a new kind of collective self-confidence. “Individual self-respect” and “collective self-confidence” constitute, then, the cultural building blocks of mass democratic politics. Their development permits people to conceive of the idea of acting in self-generated democratic ways -- as distinct from passively participating in various hierarchical modes bequeathed by the received culture. In this study of Populism, I have given a name to this plateau of cooperative and democratic conduct. I have called it “the movement culture.” Once attained, it opens up new vistas of social possibility, vistas that are less clouded by inherited assumptions. I suggest that all significant mass democratic movements in human history have generated this autonomous capacity. Indeed, had they not done so, one cannot visualize how they could have developed into significant mass democratic movements.

Does blogging hold a key for "people who have individually managed to attain a high level of personal political self-respect" to "develop widespread methods of internal communication within the mass movement"?

On the surface, yes. But let's assume "the movement is able to achieve this level of internal communication and democracy, and the ranks accordingly grow in numbers and in political consciousness, [and] a new plateau of social possibility comes within reach of all participants."

Is there a flawed and deeply inherent contradiction in creating a movement that:

  • relies on the very structural edifice we wish to challenge, one that provides us with the tools by which such "internal communication" is possible?

  • creates de-centralized, non-localized, non bio-regional "communities" of solipsists, where actors only know each other virtually?

  • transcend the medium's inherent virtuality to achieve practical results? (Ghosts can see furniture, but they can't move it.)

Social change through telekinesis?

If blogging (and, by extension, the web itself) provides the means by which such a community for social change can form how does it move to the next level?

I'm still new at blogging, and these are new, inchoate thoughts. I just wanted to record them here and now while they flit through my mind.

Hence I welcome the opportunity for additional thoughts to clarify and flesh out my own. I'm sure others have thought greatly about this, and I would appreciate both flashlights and maps.

[Note: all blockquoted emphases are mine.]